An innovative digital platform for the government is being developed to promote the sustainable production and consumption of charcoal.
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It’s the work of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which partnered with the Group for Environment, Renewable Energies and Solidarity (Geres), the Regional Community Forestry Training Center (RECOFTC) and Okoone, a digital agency providing mobile, web and cloud development services.
The project is called a “Sustainable Charcoal Production Digital Platform”. It provides a traceability system that captures the source of charcoal production, logistics and sales management in selected communities.
It also features an e-commerce function to improve efficiency in the entire value chain of charcoal, reduce transaction costs and make sustainable charcoal more accessible to users. This digital platform was successfully piloted in Pursat province.
UNDP Resident Representative Nick Beresford said it promotes sustainable charcoal production and improves the livelihoods of communities who depend on charcoal production for income generation.
He said last month the UNDP launched the human development report titled ‘Sustaining Natural Resources for All’. That report provides sustainable options for using and managing forest resources including wood fuel.
Mr Beresford added that wood fuel consists of firewood and charcoal. According to the report, in Cambodia wood fuel plays an important role in supporting rural communities as well as various industries and businesses. For example, more than 80 percent of rural households rely on firewood or charcoal for daily cooking.
He added that firewood is also used in the garment and brick-making industries to generate energy. Also, a large volume of firewood is converted into charcoal to be used for cooking in households or at restaurants.
According to Geres, the growing demand for wood fuel has added mounting pressure on existing forests. Most of the wood fuel is sourced from unsustainable origins. The total annual consumption of wood fuel now amounts to more than 6 million tonnes. This is equivalent to an annual loss of more than 71,600 hectares of deciduous forests.
“This is an alarming concern that needs to be addressed not only for the sake of the sustainability of forests but also for human wellbeing,” a source revealed.
“This digital platform builds on an e-commerce approach to improve efficiency in the entire value chains, to reduce transaction costs and to make sustainable charcoal more attractive and convenient to consumers,” said Mr Beresford.
He said that it introduces a mobile app for users and restaurants to be able to order sustainable charcoals to be delivered at their convenience. The platform also has a traceability system to ensure the sustainability of the entire value chain.
According to the UNDP, wood fuel including firewood and charcoal is increasingly in demand in Cambodia. About 800,000 tonnes of firewood are used in the garment and brick-making industry and 1.8 million tonnes for household cooking while 3.5 million tonnes of charcoal is used for cooking in households and restaurants. However, this growing demand for wood fuel is putting pressure on existing forests.
Speaking at the launch of this digital platform yesterday in Phnom Penh, Keo Omaliss, Forestry Administration director-general, said: “This pilot project is contributing to the expected achievement of our draft Production Forest Strategic Plan (NFSP), Agricultural Master Plan, and Cambodian Sustainable Development Goals (CSDGs).”
“Based on this successful experience, the FA in partnership with Geres is scaling up this effort in two provinces (Pursat and Kampong Chhnang). Good practices and lessons learned will be used to inform the national government to improve policy promoting sustainable wood fuel production and consumption in the future,” Mr Omaliss said.
He said that the purpose of this digital platform is to help to boost the living standards of the community by using sustainable charcoal.
“In the future, the government encourages them [the community] to export the charcoal if the production is not affecting the forestry resources.
“We can check on legal wood. We have the team to check from the logging in the forest, transport and the use in the charcoal kiln and transport to the consumers, so we trace them every time,” Mr Omaliss said.
“We are trying to transform the unsustainable wood to the sustainable practice’s project,” he said. “We cracked down on about 1,000 cases of illegal forest logging and transportation and, last year, we cracked down on a big scale to drive the illegal deforestation down this year,” Mr Omaliss said.
“I think this pilot project on the digital platform will help to prevent the unsourced wood and push the community to plant trees to supply the kilns to produce charcoal,” he added.
“We have the mechanism to manage the forest, so they have to put into practice what they set out in the action plan, which was acknowledged by the forest administration office,” he said.
“The illegal forest logging to produce the charcoal will affect the wood which should be serving the next generation. Thus, we will have no forest to protect us from natural disasters. We want them to grow the trees to produce the charcoal to avoid effects on the natural forest,” he added.
Mr Beresford, however, added that the UNDP wants to work with the government and community to build a more sustainable system.
“This is the way we are trying to do it,” he said “This technology is also good for the community. If they are protecting the forest in a sustainable way and as a source of production, they also win and they get a better price, a better reliable income. This way we can make it more a holistic, mutually beneficial system.”